Rolling Wheels in Rolling Hills
This is a tough ride that local riders say is much harder than it appears on the map. The locale? The stunning Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, just south of Shenandoah National Park. Well-conditioned, advanced mountain bikers usually require four or five hours to complete this 15-mile loop, which features extremely steep and rocky Kennedy Ridge Trail. No one else should attempt it.
Yet for fit, technically adept riders, the scenery along the ride makes the effort worthwhile. Kennedy Ridge offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. For much of its length, the trail passes through a beautiful, dense evergreen forest. Plan to ride here in May and June; the blooming rhododendrons and mountain laurel are stunning. But for dyed-in-the-wool hammerheads, the major attraction of the Mills Creek/Kennedy Loop is the 1,200-foot-vertical, 2.5-mile descent on the Kennedy Ridge Trail. It's fast and dangerous through the rocky sections . . . but exhilarating and smooth through the pine forest at the end of the trail.
Finding the trail: From I-64, take VA 624 East to VA 664 South. Drive about 5 miles, turn right onto FS 42, then take the first left onto FS 1237, and park in one of the parking areas. FS 1237 becomes Mills Creek Trail in a few hundred yards.
Notes on the trail: On your bike, ride up FS 1237 a few hundred yards; it becomes the Mills Creek Trail, which is blue-blazed and follows a creek. After 5 miles of easy riding, the switchbacks begin; most riders will need to dismount and hike this final mile up toward Bald Mountain and FS 162. The climb ends in a large open clearing (a great place to take a break).
At the clearing, turn right onto FS 162 and enjoy the roller coaster hills. At the intersection with St. Mary's Trail (signed; on the left) and Kennedy Ridge Trail (on the right), turn right onto Kennedy Ridge Trail (unsigned but blazed). After a short climb, it's all downhill from here (but very technical at the start).
The trail ends in a beautiful pine forest with lots of whoop-de-doos; don't get carried away and get hurt on this fun section of single-track. At the end of the trail, turn right onto FS 42 and return to your car (about 3 miles).
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication